Kelly Bishop coal drops into the coolest hotel in Kings Cross (and its secret cocktail bar)
You know you’re a stone’s throw from Central Saint Martins when every hip young thing that sashays past looks like they’re straight off the pages of Dazed. If you’re looking for fashion inspo, loiter around an art school in London. I’m just hoping some of their sartorial sass has made it via osmosis into my bloodstream.
It’s a rabbit hole fantasy for grown-ups and I am all over it.
Saint Martins is nestled amid an impressive modernisation of a once run-down part of London. Coal Drops Yard in Kings Cross is the industrial glow up everyone’s talking about with its series of once dilapidated railway arches now home to tres chic (and tres cher) shops, coffee houses and bars.
Coal Drops Yard is the place to be in Kings Cross
The arty environs permeate everything, think walls emblazoned with collaged homages to decades of subversive fashion. Wolf and Badger (the ones who are always advertising at you on FB and Insta) has a massive clothing and interiors store here - that should give you the idea.
Impressive too are the enormous gas holders now converted, by a specialist engineering company from Yorkshire, into the most unique apartment blocks I’ve ever seen. Built in the 1850s, the gas holders were decommissioned around 20 years ago before being dismantled and then rebuilt bit by bit in 2013. I’m sure their look is not for everyone but I love the brutalist boldness of them - and the up-cycling of an industrial relic is always welcome, no?
Kings Cross, once as grubby a part of town as most areas near city centre train stations, is having its moment.
Megaro: A colourful, eccentric hotel in Kings Cross
So it’s less surprising than I first thought that Kings Cross should be home to one of the most eccentric hotels I’ve ever stayed in. We had been invited to check out The Megaro, which is easy to find given that its entire exterior is emblazoned with a wash of contemporary art style graffiti. It’s extra striking juxtaposed with the surrounding grey grandness.
Entering through a discreet side door, the space, designed by Henry Chebaane feels luxe and glamorous from the off. We’re welcomed warmly as we gaze around at the artsy opulence. But our room is something else. Decked out like a pop star’s glamorous backstage boudoir there’s a bulb-framed mirror and a director’s chair with "pop diva" written on it. I feel right at home.
An insanely comfortable Harris Tweed sofa has me shuffling mechanic style underneath to see where I could possibly buy one of my own (alas, it's beyond my budget) and the bed is categorically the most comfortable thing I have ever lain my weary bones upon. I fall into its enormous nest-like cocoon channelling Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting on the brink of a blissful narcotic-fuelled death.
As I gaze up at the golden bubbles on the ceiling, I twig that this room is themed around champagne, specifically Piper Heidsieck. The movie star red, the golden sparkle lights like a snapshot of a bottle pop and what’s this? The walls are made of cork! It’s a rabbit hole fantasy for grown-ups and I am all over it.
Magenta: A modern Italian restaurant that gives you butterflies
It would be easy to spend the entire evening in the room but Megaro’s modern Italian restaurant is calling. Magenta, also designed by Henry Chebaane is decked in hundreds of pink aluminium butterflies reminiscent of my trip to Carnaby. It’s flamboyantly decorated and the food doesn't hide its light under a bushel either. Four courses are recommended but these become five as a plate of jet black Michelin style snacks sail over to get us in the mood. A black ball of charcoal sourdough threatens to ruin our appetites from the off - only because we want to eat it all immediately and then ask for another.
Foams and flourishes are the order of the day, this is no standard Italian fair, Flavours are classic but playful and outré. We enjoy, amongst other things, scallop and lobster ravioli with samphire and spiced bisque and hand pinched Agnolotti filled with slow-cooked beef and smoked crème fraiche - both are suitably indulgent. Service is impeccable, super knowledgable but friendly - our server (who we suspect is the manager) makes all the guests feel like royalty. Diners are happy, the wine and food are flowing. Who knew there was such an unexpected Italian restaurant in this part of town? Well, now you do.
Hokus Pokus: a spellbinding, subterranean cocktail bar
The surprises don’t stop there. We are whisked downstairs to Hokus Pokus, a hidden cocktail bar serving up libations Heston would be proud of. My favourite, Shroom Boom, is made with porcini mushroom. A kind of pagan marriage between chocolate and fungus. Reminds me of a forager I once met who had a propensity for chocolate-dipped “Judas Ear” mushrooms. Another features duck fat washed bourbon.
The bar is decked out like a steampunk apothecary with tinctures, skulls and potions. There are only a few guests enjoying the mixologist’s witchy creations on the evening of our visit but something tells me this place won’t stay a secret for long. In the meantime, if you want a London cocktail bar that’s not yet overrun with hipsters and drunks, Hokus Pokus is my top tip.
Our visit is short and we’re sad to leave the Megaro, but we just have time to pop to a cute nearby cafe for breakfast. I have to give an honourable mention to the lovely Half Cup where mushrooms appeared again, this time paired with a paint smear of dark green kale pesto and topped with a sunny fried egg.
Kings Cross is a bonafide destination now and just another reason to hop on the train to the big smoke.
The Megaro Hotel, 1 Belgrove St, London WC1H 8AB